Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Racism in the Schools

This made me crazy for two reasons.

(If you don't want to click through, its a local newspaper article about a consultant hired by the school district to help deal with the institutional racism problem. As far as I can tell from the article, he has been paid $62,000 in the last year to lecture administrators about how racist they are and to develop a program of "equity.")

First, its just so fucking liberal -- the knee-jerk, hand-wringing, crunchy granola kind -- to pay someone to lecture you about how racist you are. What is this, a confessional? Get real. Of course, institutional racism exists. We are all racist (white and black -- and I'll bet you anything that this guy is one of those who will tell you that blacks can't be racist because racism is about power and blacks don't have power -- to which I reply, tell that to the growing black middle class, Robert Johnson, Richard Parsons, Oprah Winfrey, whoever). Its what we do about our racism that matters. I work every day to address my racism -- but I'll never deny that those feelings are there. I just don't need to do penance to some guy who's getting paid to tell me how racist I am.

Second, it appears from the article and from my own experiences of having children in the district that what this guy's idea of "equity" is LOWERING THE BAR! He has suggested that teachers not assign work that requires the use of "expensive" materials or not going on "expensive" field trips. Ever hear of subsidizing those who can't afford it? As far as supplying computers, fine, but ever hear of a library (I know our city library has lots of computers available free of charge) or school computer lab?

Now, I totally disagree with the parents who are complaining that the emphasis on improving minority school performance is taking away from their own precious and extremely priveledged little white children. That's just BS and they should shut up.

But come on now, let's actually DO SOMETHING about minority achievement, not just feel bad about it and lower the bar. What should be done? How about programs to instill middle class values in these kids? And what's more middle class than striving to be more than your parents? Achieving "equity" by lowering the expectations is ridiculous. Instead, we should be arranging for these kids to experience and be expected to embrace middle class values which would give them skills and aspirations to break out of their socio-economic prison.

(And don't even tell me this means we're expecting black kids to act white. That's BS and again ask any wealthy or middle class black person if they really feel that they're acting white or selling out. Money is green, not black or white.)

When my daughter was in 5th grade (and I guess I should mention here that my kids are bi-racial and therefore are considered minorities), she participated in a program run jointly by the university and the district. Designed to get minority kids interested in careers in medicine, the program enlisted black medical students at the local university to conduct a series of free Saturday workshops where the kids studied various medical subjects. I believe there was even free transportation for those kids who might have had a probem getting to campus. On the final day, the kids did some great presentations for the parents and there was a nice luncheon. I believe they do this again in high school.

This, to me, is what we should be doing more of. Emphasize the positive aspects of middle class life. I remember when my troubled son was in middle school and they had a program to take troubled black boys to a jail so they could see how bad it was. I had a fit and wouldn't let him go. Instead, I suggested, why didn't they take these boys to the local university, have them meet with some black male college students and encourage them to see themselves as going to college, rather than going to jail?

Now, I do think some teachers and particularly guidance counselors could benefit from workshops on institutional racism and how to avoid it in helping kids make choices. There was a story in the paper a year or so ago about a high acheiving black girl in one of the high schools whose guidance counselor refused to help her with college choices because he just assumed she was not going to be able to go. And I have personally witnessed a glorified, much loved teacher of the year who was quite racist to the point where the black kids (who subconciously recognized what the teacher was doing and acted on it) were so badly behaved that the class had to be monitored by an assistant principal just to keep order. So its there and it needs to be addressed.

(I must add that most teachers in the district are committed educators and many are incredibly dedicated to helping minority students succeed. Again, that's a strength that should be emphasized.)

But, enough with the atonement and the Harrison Bergeron-like lowering of standards. Instead, let's help these kids envision themselves as successful and empower them with the skills they need to succeed. And not just the academic skills, but the social skills as well. A lot of these kids do not know how to behave in assemblies, so how would they ever know how to behave in an office setting? Again, this can be addressed through setting expectations and modeling behaviors. This modeling needs to begin very early on, in elementary school.

These kids need extra support because they are most likely not going to receive it at home. What they don't need is lowered expectations. And what the teachers and administrators who work with the kids need is money and the training to address the kids' problems, not having their "guilt" addressed by some high priced (though well meaning, I'm sure) consultant.


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